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concession of a principle which common sense, the dictates of justice, and the precedents of ages so thoroughly recognize.
Yet there appears but little chance of any such change of practice being effected, unless the public take the matter up in their own interests, and in that unmistakeable way which shows them to be in earnest. The fact will be patent to all who consider our recent practice in state affairs, and compare it with the history of the last century, and the first years of the present, that the prescription of prerogative and official reticence has been progressively more and more sternly insisted upon han ever; whilst the voice of Parliament, in resisting, or even questioning the theory of the ministerial action, has become weaker and more hesitating every day. As a matter of history we quote the report of what took place in the House of Commons at the close of the Session of 1855, relative to the projected Treaty of Peace with Russia. On August 2nd, on the motion for going into Committee of Ways and Means, Col. Reed moved an amendment inviting the Government "to give an assurance that no treaty, or conditions of peace should be finally settled, without having Parliament previously called together." Lord Palmerston, in opposing the amendment, repeated the old unmeaning rhodomontade: “If the House distrusts the Government of the day, if they think that it is capable of concluding a peace betraying the interests and sacrificing the honour of the country, they ought at once to propose a motion the tendency of which should be to place in
other hands the trust which they consider to be improperly performed. But, on the other hand, so long as Parliament is willing to leave to those who hold office that discretionary power which, by the constitution, belongs to the responsible advisers of the crown, I think that the particular motion is one that the House would not be disposed to listen to. Of course the honourable member admits that the power of making treaties is a function which by the constitution belongs to the crown and not to Parliament. It is for Parliament to judge afterwards of the conduct of the advisers of the crown; but it is not possible according to the working and th principles of our constitution that Parliament should co-operate with the crown in the conduct of negociations, and the conclusion of treaties resulting out of these negociations."
One of the so-called " "learned members of the House, Mr. Montague Chambers, on this occasion supported the extraordinary pretensions of his Lordship, adding the remark: "The prerogative of the crown was a great prerogative, in the making of war or peace, and the responsibilities of Ministers were great. He, for one, was not inclined to relieve them from their responsibility by assisting in their counsels, upon the question whether they should advise the crown to conclude peace, or prosecute war.' And the amendment was ignominiously withdrawn.
Again, in 1864, when a Conference was sitting in London to remedy or accommodate the results of certain blundering in connection with the Treaty for the settlement of the Danish succession, Mr.
Horsman ventured to inquire of Lord Palmerston whether, in the event of any engagements being made by the plenipotentiaries, "they would be submitted to the consideration of Parliament, so as to obtain the sanction of Parliament before ratification by the crown?" In making this inquiry the right hon. gentleman clearly implied that there was lurking in his mind a very strong impression as to the absurdity, not to say illegality of secret diplomacy, together with something of a suspicion that Parliament had a right to be consulted in such matters. But he was satisfied with the usual ex cathedra reply of Lord Palmerston that "with regard to the function of negociating treaties with Foreign powers, the function is known to be clearly with the crown, acting under the advice of its responsible ministers," and denying the right of Parliament "to know anything about a treaty until after its ratification."
THE "RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS.
UPON these passages of parliamentary experience it occurs to us to make a few remarks. It may be boldly averred, once and for all, that the so-called responsibility of ministers is but an empty myth, entitled to no sort of respect or consideration. A responsibility, or guarantee, which involves no penalty in person or estate, can be but of an imaginary value. The days are past when dishonest Ministers paid the penalty of their offences against the State with their lives, or liberties; and all the punishment which attaches, at the present time, to a vote of
Parliament censuring in any matter the conduct of the "responsible advisers of the crown" is their retirement from office; when they take up their seats on the opposition side of the House, bent upon thwarting and damaging in every way the policy of the Ministers who have superceded them, and whom they hope, by a fortunate party vote, one day to displace.
In connection with this anomalous and unsatisfactory state of affairs, it may be useful to inquire a little more closely what a "responsible Ministry," as at present constituted, really is; and how far it fills the position of the consultative body which in ancient times supported and guided the crown with its advice. Under the ancient constitution of the country a body known as the Privy Council, and composed of the most eminent and respectable men of the day, including the chief officers of state, was recognized as the adviser of the Sovereign in all matters of state, domestic and foreign; and the members of that body were responsible for the acts to Parliament. It was under Charles I. that the legitimate functions of this important Council began to fall into desuetude, when the king resorted to the counsel of his most confidential and devoted friends, meeting in private in his cabinet; whence the name "Cabinet," which to this day is the corporate denomination of the men who style themselves the "responsible advisers of the crown." The Privy Council still exists in name, but is never called together except at certain state ceremonials, when they claim no deliberative voice, and simply register
ordinances already agreed upon by the "Cabinet." As a matter of practice every person who is appointed one of the Ministers of the Crown, included in the Cabinet, is created a Privy Councillor on taking office; but as a body the Cabinet is an institution unknown to the law of the country, and is virtually absolved from responsibility. "Unless," writes Mr. Chisholme Anstey, in his 'History of the Laws and Constitution of England," "some direct proof be laid of a personal participation in giving advice, no Cabinet Minister can be holden to answer for the most unlawful measures of the Cabinet; that is to say, unless by a signature, or the setting of a seal, the responsibility of the particular person for the particular measure can be proved. But how to prove it? With the Privy Council, the Book of the Council is lost. The Cabinet, not being a Council of the State known to the law, the journals of its proceedings, if it have any journals, are of no official character, and there is nowhere imposed an obligation for the safe custody or production of such." It has been remarked by another able writer, that mere expulsion from office, by a vote of Parliament, which has come to be considered a sufficient punishment for any crime which a Minister can be guilty of, does not expose, but abundantly serves to cloak and hide the offence; and that their opponents, who supplant them in their places by virtue of a parliamentary majority for a season, show no inclination to press against them for their misconduct-for the simple reason that there is no knowing how soon it may be again their turn to fall into a minority.